Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Obama book. Fantastic stuff!

I have just finished Barack Obama's fantastic book, Dreams From My Father. Whether you care about his candidacy for president or not, whether you are an Obama supporter or not, this book is close to a must-read for people interested in race relations. Obama has a very compelling style, it's easy to read and yet deep with thoughts and ideas and well...not to be too obvious here but I can't think of a better word...hope. The book is basically an autobiography from the time Obama was a youngster up until the point where he returned from Kenya to the U.S. to go to Harvard. I think most people who follow him politically know what has happened to him since then. His father was a shadowy, mysterious figure in Barack's life as he grew up. A man who was never there when he grew up in Hawaii, who came to visit only once, and who returned to Kenya for most of the rest of his life where he played a controversial, and some may say dubious, role in the government of that country. These aren't my words, they are the words of Obama, who is as candid about his thoughts and feelings as anyone whose autobiography I have ever picked up.

Candid about his thoughts and feelings toward his father, whom he both revered and disdained, at various points in his life. Candid about his thoughts and feelings toward all those around him, the militant black men who preached uprising, the opposite type of black men who blended into white culture seamlessly, or at least as best they could. Obama, at different times in his life, had very mixed feelings about just about everyone on every side of racial relations. His memories and experiences must be virtually the same as most of the other black men in the U.S. who grew up at the same time, but his vivid recollections of not just the incidents but also of their emotional impact on him are what make this book amazing. He is so willing to open up to the things he thought and the events that changed his mind. About the anger and the bitterness and the confusion and the betrayal he felt at various times. And about the stupid things he did at the lowest points in his life. In fact, he is so candid about these things that he writes things like "there was coke everywhere, and when it was gone, we could always go score some more" and things like that. I paraphrase, since I didn't highlight these passages in the book. However, the way he writes about things like drug use is telling.

Can you imagine a politician, anyone other than this man, being so forthright and candid about drug use? I think we all know George Bush was a big coke user, but has he ever said as much, or admitted it in any way? (I'm actually asking, I really don't know if he has or not.) But the fact that Obama is so out there with things like this, and the fact that he doesn't dwell on it in the book at all, but just mentions it in passing, is incredible. None of that oh poor me I was in a bad place and turned to drugs but I'm better now, or any of that baloney. It's just something he did. Let's move on. The book isn't about that. It's about the tenuous relationship that a man had with his absentee father, and more than that it's about being a black man in the United States in the 1970s and 80s. A black man who was able to see very clearly what was going on arround him, what the situation was at that time for black people, and although he didn't have answers or solutions, he certainly had the balls and the determination to work until he found some.

A beautifully written book, and surprisingly a page-turner, Barack Obama's Dreams From My Father is just terrific. Even if you are no fan of the man, or a Hilary supporter, or, god forbid, a neo-con - pick it up. Maybe moreso, in fact, if you're a neo-con.

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